Blood Vessel

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Blood Vessel
"This is a B-movie, there's no denying that, but it's a B-movie made with love and no small measure of skill."

Nazis. Vampires. A minesweeper off course and adrift in the dying days of World War Two, its interior covered in gore. A title that suggests a one joke film with no ongoing entertainment value. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Whatever late night drinking session led to this idea, it has been executed with professional sincerity. It's as silly as you might expect but it also has a coherent, well paced plot, distinctive characters and (mostly) decent acting. Whilst a good deal appears to have been lifted from TV series The Strain - it almost feels like a prequel - it has its own story to tell.

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Our heroes arrive at the titular vessel with little choice but to board it. The hospital ship on which they were travelling has been torpedoed and they've spent several days being tossed around in a tiny lifeboat on a stormy Atlantic, with very little food. Said lifeboat is lost as they board the ship, and they subsequently find that all its lifeboats have been destroyed. Although there's some squabbling about what they should do next and who should be in charge, they get themselves organised pretty fast, checking the ship over, starting the engines and making some unusual discoveries. It appears that this vessel was carrying looted artefacts, including a book of the sort that one might imagine teenagers reading from in a cabin in the woods in the middle of the night. Mostly practical types, the boarding party take more interest in the obvious treasures like gold bars. Then they find a little girl (Ruby Isobel Hall) and from then on things start to go very badly wrong.

Basing its monsters on East European myth, the film taps into a richer mythology than most Western works in the genre, and those familiar with it will find interesting reflections on the persistence of cruel class hierarchies in soon-to-be 'liberated' nations.There to explain is Russian sniper Alexander (Alex Cooke), who also understands just enough to the girl's language to know that she's looking for her family, but can't grasp its full meaning. She's comforted by medic Jane (Alyssa Sutherland, the film's one weak link when it comes to performances), under the watchful eye of sympathetic Australian Nathan (Nathan Sinclair). Meanwhile, plummy-voiced Englishman Gerard (John Lloyd Fillingham), who, true to type, is both a coward and an antiques expert, tries to make sense of the strange array of objects on the ship, as well as sneaking off once the others are distracted to get on the radio and cut a deal with Nazi high command.

Director and co-writer Justin Dix comes from a special effects and model-making background and it shows. Though clearly working on a small budget, he approaches every action set piece with confidence, never overestimating what he can pull off. There's a bit of a man-in-a-rubber-suit problem but we don't see the monsters often enough for it to be a major issue, and once we've got to know the main characters, it's easy to connect with their emotional responses regardless. Dix manages the tension well and film is energetic throughout, never pausing for long enough for us to worry about its occasional shortcuts or the convenient order in which people who might complicate the story are disposed of.

This is a B-movie, there's no denying that, but it's a B-movie made with love and no small measure of skill. Although we've seen most of what it does before, Dix makes it entertaining again. Why settle for less?

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2020
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Blood Vessel packshot
Somewhere in the North Atlantic, late 1945. A lift raft adrift at sea, and in it, the survivors of a torpedoed hospital ship: With no food, water, or shelter, all seems lost - until an abandoned German minesweeper drifts ominously towards them, giving them one last chance at survival.

Director: Justin Dix

Writer: Justin Dix, Jordan Prosser

Starring: Robert Taylor, Alyssa Sutherland, Nathan Phillips

Year: 2019

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

Grimmfest 2019

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